I am a keen reader of Lachmi Khemlani’s AECbytes newsletter, particularly for the insights into what is going on in the USA, and the latest issue is a good example.
Lachmi writes about attending ZweigWhite’s AEC Technologies Strategies conference, held in Las Vegas on 7-8 June. As well as some interesting case studies on building information modelling (BIM), Lachmi writes about implementation of “Project Execution Software” at Eppstein Uhen (a Wisconsin-based architect), and describes the challenge the firm faced in managing AEC project-related emails:
“Email in itself is a major challenge, as in the example of a Project Manager from the firm whose Email Inbox had over 4000 emails related to many different projects and other tasks. This email was not accessible to others and any email, received or sent, related to a specific project was not being documented with the project, unless the Project Manager specifically saved it out in the project folders. Even if this was diligently done, the sheer amount of information getting saved in project folders was turning them into a “digital landfill,” making it difficult to find required information easily and quickly and resolve issues efficiently. It was causing the staff at Eppstein Uhen Architects to spend a lot of time on non-value added tasks.”
The firm evaluated “document management applications” such as Documentum, Outlook plug-ins (eg: MessageSave), project extranets (eg: Buzzsaw and SharePoint), and project management solutions (eg: Primavera), but none proved a good fit:
“they were either too big or too small, or focused on a different market, they had a significant learning curve, and they lacked focus on AEC professional services and project based operations. Above all, they required a significant change in the way people were accustomed to working…”.
Of course, this AEC email challenge is nothing new – indeed, I returned to the topic only last month – but the firm’s dismissal of project extranets concerned me. While I cannot be sure which objection(s) is/are associated with each application, I wonder if Buzzsaw (targeted at AEC professionals for project-related work) was rejected because of a perceived learning curve or because people might need to change how they worked? (SharePoint is simply not a project extranet product and would require extensive configuration to meet the needs of an AEC team – see recent ShareWorkz post). And it appears the firm didn’t consider other, more sophisticated AEC-focused collaboration products (eg: in the US, e-builder, or Buzzsaw’s Autodesk stablemate Constructware). Also, the distinctive “digital landfill” claim set alarm bells ringing, reminding me of some provocative claims made last year….
Enter Newforma Project Center
Eppstein Uhen then looked at Newforma Project Center, said Lachmi, describing how it got an immediate “Eureka” reaction from project managers (mention of Newforma also confirmed my suspicions – see previous post!).
The Newforma application sits behind a company’s firewall: “a server … sits next to a firm’s central server and automatically indexes and categorizes all the information so that it can be easily accessed, managed, and searched” and “it has plug-ins to Microsoft Outlook that allow both incoming and outgoing emails to be quickly saved with their respective projects with a single click” (Lachmi promises a more detailed product review next month – which I look forward to).
It is clear that email (and Microsoft Outlook in particular) remains widely used within AEC project teams, despite the availability of other email-like communication channels within some AEC collaboration products. For example:
- the UK’s BIW Technologies [my employer] has long had a ‘team mail’ function within its collaboration platform that allows project team members to create, send, receive and – most importantly – track, store and provide an audit trail of email-like project-related communications,
- and Union Square makes a virtue of the email management capabilities in its Workspace intranet platform (see post).
BIW has now gone a stage further and provides an Outlook Integration utility. BIW users can continue to use Outlook as their primary workplace tool, yet access BIW without needing to jump to a separate system.
- from within Outlook, BIW users are notified of outstanding actions and alerted to new project information that has been sent to them
- once logged into Outlook, users can click on a link to their BIW project and enter without needing to login
- users can ‘drag and drop’ project-related emails onto a project folder and quickly upload the emails into BIW